I do fairly well in competitions and occasionally receive comments from the other entrants such as “it’s not fair, you win everything!” or “we might as well not bother entering, because we all know you’ll win!”. Leaving aside the fact this isn’t actually true and my images are just as likely to score badly in a competition as score highly, I’m not sure what the intention of these kinds of remarks is. To make me feel………..what? Apologetic? Ashamed? Bad? I’m never sure what my response should be.
I’ve written previously about the help, advice and support I generously received from fellow photographers when I first started out on my journey. Due to my passion for photography, alongside hours and hours of hard work, my skills developed quite rapidly and before I knew it I’d gone from a complete beginner to beating my mentors in competitions and receiving national, and international, acclaim. And somewhere along the way, the mood towards me shifted. Subtly at first, then in a much more obvious way. I received underserved criticism of my images, snarky remarks were made within earshot and unflattering gossip took place behind my back. This eventually escalated into outright hostility from a couple of people and I was sent to Coventry.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that my success had created feelings of jealousy and resentment in some quarters and I am not alone in this regard. I’ve talked to two other successful female photographers who have had similar, if not worse, experiences.
We’ve all felt envy at one time or another, it’s part of the human condition, but for me it’s only ever been a fleeting experience. There will always be people better at photography than me. Richer than me. Slimmer than me. Prettier than me. More educated than me. Happier than me……. Conversely, I am richer, slimmer, prettier, more educated, happier or better at photography than some other people. This is the way of our beautiful, diverse, interesting and stimulating world. What would life be if we were all the same?! Who would our mentors, teachers and inspiration be if we all had the same skill set from the get go?
There are photographers to whom I look up in awe and whose talent I could never hope to emulate. They are more successful and well known than me, and frequently beat me in international competitions, but although I’m naturally disappointed for myself when I don’t do well I have enough capacity to also be genuinely chuffed for my competitors as I know the amount of sheer hard work and dedication it’s taken for them to get to where they are. I am thankful for the motivation they provide me to improve my own skills and delight in the wonderful, inspiring images they produce. Not an ounce of jealousy is felt.
I am not a competitive person. I couldn’t care less whether I win at Monopoly or come last in the 3 legged egg race. Why, then, do I enter photography competitions? Firstly, because it gives me a goal without which I can be quite lazy. There are days when I’m exhausted and it would be so much easier to slob in front of the telly with a packet of Hobnobs than spend 2 hours working on the bars of a birdcage, but if I have a competition deadline I have to get the picture finished.
Secondly, competitions keep me motivated to produce new work. To push my skills and boundaries. To try subjects and techniques I wouldn’t have ordinary considered. They also force me to print out my photographs, which is something I tend not to do otherwise as my commercial pictures are printed at a professional lab.
And thirdly, to receive feedback from judges which has been a very important part of my learning and development. As long as I receive constructive critique of my images, which helps me grow as a photographer, I don’t care whether my image is placed 1st or last because my goal has been achieved. I don’t judge myself against other people as I am uniquely me. My goal isn’t to beat anyone, it is to improve on myself. It genuinely seems to confuse some people when I say I’m not bothered about winning the competitions I enter, but my motivation for entering isn’t to win – it’s to produce images because I love photography and if other people enjoy my pictures that’s just the icing on the cake.
Jealousy is a destructive, poisonous emotion. I can’t imagine creating a great photograph on the back of a negative feeling like envy. When I think of jealousy it conjures up an image of dense, black air, and when I think about creating it conjures up an image of vibrant white light. The two are diametrically opposed.
Genuinely delight in others’ achievements, then when the time comes for your own success they will genuinely delight in yours.